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Multiple Intelligences:
It's Not How Smart You Are,
It's How You're Smart!


Howard Gardner's multiple intelligence theory has asked educators to take a fresh look at our assumptions about children and learning. Teachers around the world are rethinking lessons and units -- and their entire approaches to teaching -- based on his research. Whether you're just learning the ropes or looking for a more in-depth study of M.I. applications, there's material on the Web for you! Included: A wealth of information on multiple intelligence theory, from articles and interviews to lessons, projects, and activities!

Consider one 17-year-old boy who twice failed grade 10. This student's IQ score, at barely 100, allowed him to squeak into the public school's regular program, but his school's testing practice prevented the boy from rising past the bottom scores in his class. For a while, in spite of his difficulties to pass most tests, the student desperately tried to succeed at school. Life on a farm taught him the value of hard consistent work, and the boy's easy-going nature splashed color on classroom activities. His infectious laughter made him a sought-after friend to both peers and staff. The shop teacher told how he frequently hung around to help out after class, and how, when volunteers were requested, he was first to respond.

Although the boy mastered few skills championed in traditional Western curricula, he clearly possessed his own unique array of talents. While he showed higher than average inter-communication ability, however, he withdrew and often grew noticeably quiet when tests were handed back...

"One principal suggested that the boy came to school with the 'wrong abilities.' Other educators, like his science and music teachers, suggested that the school issued this student the 'wrong tests.' Unfortunately, however, the boy failed grade 10. Already stung by two previous failures and rather than repeat again, eventually he simply dropped out of the high-school system."

How many teachers recognize a student like the one so eloquently described above in this excerpt from A Portrait Of A Student Failed (New Horizons for Learning Electronic Journal, Spring 1992)? In that story, author Patricia Weber goes on to make a case for the work of Howard Gardner, father of the theory of multiple intelligences. Writes Weber, "Educator and researcher Howard Gardner argues that the educational system's narrow view of intelligence must be replaced with an attempt to mobilize the student's full range of human intelligences."

The majority of teachers were fortunate to have successful experiences as students; they were able to master the requirements of a language arts-mathematics based curriculum and the narrowly designed methods used to measure progress. But what about those students, such as the boy described by Weber, who weren't able to demonstrate their abilities in traditionally rote ways? How have we penalized those students over the years?

Howard Gardner's multiple intelligence theory (hereafter referred to as M.I.) transcends the boundaries of how we have traditionally looked at learning. And it couldn't have happened at a more important moment in our history. The citizens of the 21st century will not thrive by simply mastering literacy and computation; they will need to be real-world problem solvers who understand how to access and manipulate all kinds of information in incredibly flexible ways in order to be productive. M.I. provides us with the tools to meet this challenge today.


"Intelligence is the ability to find and solve problems and create products of value in one's own culture."

"How can our knowledge, given the intelligences, help us learn to think like a historian, like a scientist, and so on? If we don't change the way people think about those things, then school is a waste of time after elementary school."
-- Dr. Howard Gardner, Harvard University

M.I. theory is so holistic that the best place to start is with the big picture -- What is this theory and what are its implications for the classroom? The Theory Of Multiple Intelligences gives a nice overview of the underpinnings of Gardner's theory. You might also take a look at It's Not How Smart You Are -- It's How You Are Smart (click Overview ), which explores all the intelligences in layman's terms.


So you might be able to buy into the theory, but you need to see how M.I. translates into classroom teaching. Thomas Armstrong's Multiple Intelligences presents the theory and its implications for teachers, while The Gardner School page demonstrates the possibilities of implementing M.I. in the curriculum.


Still looking for something to truly get you off and running with Gardner's view of intelligence? I highly recommend Mrs. Young's Page on Multiple Intelligences. This is one of the best M.I. pages out there for teachers who are ready to begin working M.I. theory into their instruction.

Millions of teachers are adopting Howard Gardner's view of children and learning -- and many of those teachers are finding helpful M.I. resources on the Internet. Using a multiple intelligence approach to teaching can energize a classroom and help every child achieve success, M.I. proponents say. No matter the grade level or subject, Gardner's theory can have a profound impact on teachers and students.

Article by Walter McKenzie
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World

Originally published 03/20/2000
Links Updated 01/11/2010